Wash. House passes police pursuit bill with slight amendments

Legislation moves to the Senate, but some representatives and LEOs believe the new bill still does not offer a comprehensive solution

By Rebecca Pettingill
Columbia Basin Herald

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The state House of Representatives voted this week to approve a measure that will restore vehicular pursuits for police under certain circumstances.

"This important legislation will make incremental improvements to the 2021 law that severely restricts the possibility of suspects being pursued by law enforcement," said Steven D. Strachan, executive director Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

Just after midnight Tuesday morning, the House voted 57-40 to approve Senate Bill 5352 which would allow police pursuits of those suspected of committing violent crimes, sex offenses, domestic violence-related offenses, vehicular assault, driving under the influence and trying to escape arrest. The existing law, enacted in 2021, boosted the standard for police pursuits from "reasonable suspicion" to "probable cause," which law enforcement officials say severely restricted law enforcement from engaging in vehicular pursuits in Washington state.

The measure, which had narrowly passed the Senate, 26-23, will return to the Senate for concurrence before advancing further because the bill was slightly amended in the House Community Safety, Justice and Reentry Committee.

Legislators, police chiefs and sheriffs have voiced that this bill is a step in the right direction, but still isn't enough to be able to effectively combat crime.

"This is a step forward. It's a small step forward. It's too small of a step forward," said Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, ranking Republican on the House Community Safety, Justice and Reentry Committee. "If law enforcement officers are brave enough to put on a uniform and risk their lives, even willing to take a bullet for strangers, shouldn't we be sure they're able to continue to do their job? They're fighting to keep us safe. We have to help them. We have to do our job, which is to make sure we give them all the tools they need to do their jobs."

A joint statement by local Representatives Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, and Alex Ybarra, R-Quincy, agreed.

"While we voted in favor of this bill, it does not go far enough. Our law enforcement needs more, our communities deserve to feel safe. This issue is not going away. This vote does not end the discussion and we expect it will be before us next session until we get a more comprehensive solution for our law enforcement officials and the safety of our communities," the two legislators said in the statement.

Soap Lake Police Chief Ryan Cox also said that it is a step in the right direction but isn't enough. He said his department hasn't been able to pursue a single vehicle under the current law. Cox also said he feels that the responsibility of pursuits should be put back on the law enforcement officer, the agency and the training they receive. He said cases which receive complaints could be reviewed by boards established to review police use of force given that pursuits are considered a type of use of force.

"To me, they're nitpicking over what laws should be able to be chased, but it's not addressing the true crime stats that are out there, and I think if you put it back onto the established boards the Criminal Justice Training Commission and the State of Washington have already established ... I think you will get farther by doing that than what they're doing now," Cox said.

Cox said the pursuit policy changes have been made to prevent injuries or death but added he believes the risks associated are more prevalent in larger, more densely populated areas than Soap Lake and Grant County in general.

"We have the means and the ability to stop (pursuits) very quick," Cox said. "I understand on the West Side you're more congested, but it's going to take more training for that department to understand and to do those things."

(c)2023 the Columbia Basin Herald, Wash.
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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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